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Jacques Louis David - The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon

Art and records have always been interesting to humans of all countries and professions. Art inspires humans and make them value beautiful matters and history. In this paper I would like to tell about my last go to to the famous and outstanding museum of Louvre. I visited this amazing and magic place during my closing attendance of Paris, last year. This place is well-known for the collection of great masterpieces. I noticed a great number of superb pieces of art, including pics and statutes; however, one of them impressed me to the extent that I would like to share my impressions with you.
I visited Louvre last year. It was in the center of autumn, the 16th of October, therefore this magic and beautiful place seemed even more magnificent and impressive to me. The weather was brilliant and warm, therefore, I decided to spend my time in one of the most famous and outstanding places of Paris. There were a lot of beautiful pictures; however, my attention was attracted by the work The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon by Jacques Louis David. Connoisseurs of art go to the Louvre to see the monumental paintings of French artist Jacques Louis David. The ostentatious canvas depicting the coronation of Napoleon is one of his masterpieces, which gathers thousands of people in front of it.

The full title of the painting is The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804. David caught the moment, when Napoleon crowned Josephine, and Pope Pius VII gave him his blessing (Laveissiere 12). The artist devoted several years to creation of this magnificent picture, the work on which took two years, from 1805-1807 and was presented to the wide audience in 1808 (Laveissiere 13)

The picture was created in the period, when politics and religion went hand in hand; therefore, these two themes are central in the picture. One of the reasons, why the picture is devoted to history and politics, is the political part of the artist. The history tells that David was one of the first persons, participating and maintaining the Great French bourgeois revolution. Moreover, he was a friend of Marat and Robespierre and the member of the Convention, who signed the decree on the execution of King Louis XVI (Laveissiere 21). These facts explain the vividness and solemnity of the picture, which was peculiar to the events of that period (Laveissiere 22). When the picture was created, France was living an interesting, but difficult period of its development and growth. It was on the eve of one of the most famous and bloody wars, in which it has been involved by Napoleon. Therefore, the picture of David is penetrated with the spirit of solemn beauty that characterized the period of French history.

After the triumphant campaigns in Italy and Egypt, Napoleon managed to win military prestige among the neighboring countries. He took power as First Consul after the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire (Laveissiere 24). In May 1804, after Napoleon’s proclamation as an emperor, he organized the ceremony of his coronation on December 2 1804 at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in order to safe his imperial legality and root his power in the traditions of French monarchy and Catholicism (Laveissiere 25). In addition, this emperor was of particular importance for the country as he was consecrated emperor by the pope. However, Napoleon crowned himself, facing the worshippers instead of the high altar to demonstrate that his leadership and power were independent from the Church. Even though David's original sketch represented the Emperor, when he was crowning himself, on the final picture we see shows him crowning the Empress. In this way David wanted to depict napoleon as nobler and less authoritarian person, corresponding to the name French Knight, that napoleon has given to himself. In the process of discussing the picture, I knew an interesting fact that the picture has been created by the order of Napoleon himself, who wanted everything to look better than it really was. Therefore, he asked David to depict his mother in the center of the picture, although she was not present at the coronation. Moreover, David depicted Napoleon a little higher and Josephine - a little younger. These facts prove that David’s artwork was considerably influenced by the historical events of that period. The artist himself attended the ceremony; therefore he was greatly inspired by the solemnity of the ceremony and created the masterpiece, which combined correctness with creativity while also strictly obeying to the Emperor’s instructions and commands. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that David met the challenge to create a monumental piece of art that would elevate the event and take a unique and irreplaceable place in the history of art. Careful strokes that make almost all the figures recognizable, allow understanding some sharpness and even disrespect of the artist, and, most importantly, his critical intentions. In relation to the pope and the religious side of the scene, the luxurious draperies, the pump, assumed by the composition, do not create an atmosphere of reverence, but are a complete profanation of the hill. This is the main irreverence of the picture. David was a revolutionary; therefore, he turned Notre Dame into the theater of laymen than into the house of God. This tricky element makes the picture especially interesting.

I think it will be interesting to mention that David took his inspiration for the layout and major themes of his painting from Rubens's famous Coronation of Marie de Medici (this masterpiece can be also found in the Louvre). He witnessed the ceremony first-hand and had most of its participants pose for him, also reconstructing the scene in his purpose-built studio with cardboard models and wax figurines. When I have learnt this fact, I imagined how difficult and at the same time involving it is to create such pictures, which would attract attention of the public for centuries.

Those, who have visited Louvre at least once, know that this famous museum contains a huge collection of pieces of art of a wide range of artists and sculptors from different centuries. Therefore, each piece of art, picture or sculpture is penetrated with the spirit of history, love and devotion to art. Among a great variety of canvases, presented in Louvre, my attention was captured with this picture, because of its solemnity, game of paints and interesting plot. On the one hand, it contains depiction of a coronation, which was taking place in all medieval European countries, however, this one is unusual and impresses with its immensity.

Works cited

Laveissiere, Sylvain ,  Le Sacre de Napoléon peint par David, Louvre, Paris, 2004-2005

Appendix 1

Source: Louvre. Department of paintings: French painting (http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/consecration-emperor-napoleon-and-coronation-empress-josephine-december-2-1804)

August 09, 2021

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